A familiar face will take over the iconic No. 48 Chevrolet when Jimmie Johnson moves on after the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season.
Taylor Swift would probably be proud of the recent decision from NASCAR’s Hendrick Motorsports, as what they were looking for was there the whole time.
This week, HMS announced that the No. 48 Chevrolet set to be vacated by Jimmie Johnson will be occupied by his teammate Alex Bowman in 2021. Johnson, a record seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion, is set to retire at the end of the 2020 season. He has driven team owner Rick Hendrick’s No. 48 on a full-time basis since 2002.
Ally Financial will be retained as the No. 48’s primary sponsor while Bowman’s crew chief, Greg Ives, will follow him over.
“I’m excited. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun,” Bowman said in a teleconference after the announcement. “My initial reaction was just being excited and honored to drive the No. 48 car. Jimmie’s meant a lot to me throughout my career. Everything he’s done for me, whether it’s being a friend off of the racetrack and just being someone to get advice from or being a great teammate, it’s been awesome to get to work with him and get to know him.”
“To get to drive that car is an honor and I just want to go get it in victory lane and have a lot of fun doing it.”
Bowman, 27, currently drives the No. 88 Chevorlet for HMS. The shift to one of NASCAR’s most iconic rides is part of an incredible racing journey that began on the local short tracks of California and his native Arizona. His success was enough to warrant consideration at NASCAR’s lower levels, including a full-time Cup Series chance with the underfunded BK Racing and Tommy Baldwin Racing.
His first opportunity with HMS came in the latter stages of 2016. He and another Cup Series/Hendrick legend, four-time champion Jeff Gordon shared pilot duties of the No. 88 after Dale Earnhardt Jr. dealt with concussion issues. Bowman would take over the car full-time in 2018 after a retiring Earnhardt endorsed his takeover.
“I think the biggest thing when it comes down to ‘doing it right’ is to get the 48 back in victory lane, to go win races and contend for a championship” Bowman said. “I feel like we’re very capable of doing that. We’ve done that throughout the year this year, and hopefully we’ll continue to. In the 48 car we’re going to be up front, for sure.”
Since then, Bowman has reached the Cup Series playoffs in each of his three seasons behind the wheel. He took home his first career Cup Series win in 2019 at Chicagoland and earned another this season at Fontana back in March, when he led 110 of 200 laps to win the Auto Club 400. Ironically, Johnson’s first win also came at the two-mile track during his rookie season. Bowman currently sits in seven place in the playoff standings, 22 points ahead of the cutoff to the Round of 8. The Round of 12 drivers ends on Sunday afternoon at the Bank of America Roval 400 in Charlotte (2:30 p.m. ET, NBC).
The move more or less amounts to Bowman’s No. 88 team rebranding as the 48. HMS still plans to run four cars next season, but it’s not clear who will drive the vacated 88 next season. Speculation has persisted that the car will revert to one of Hendrick’s former brandings like the Nos. 5 or 25. Terry Labonte drove the No. 5 to the Cup Series championship in 1996 and the number was last used by Kasey Kahne in 2017. Hendrick’s No. 25 has not raced on a full-time basis since 2007 with Casey Mears behind the wheel. It has since made brief appearances as a part-time car, hosting the Cup Series debuts of current stars Brad Keselowski and Chase Elliott (who remains in the HMS stable in the No. 9 Chevrolet).
Alex Bowman took over for one of the most famous drivers in Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2017. Alex Bowman had the opportunity to earn the job when Earnhardt has struggled with head issues. In that time, Bowman was able to prove himself well enough to earn a full-time ride in succession of Earnhardt Jr.
Bowman struggled early in his career, but towards the back half of last season, he truly broke through. At Chicagoland, after being the bridesmaid quite a few times, he was finally the bride when he won the Camping World 400. Bowman has since established himself as a much stronger force in the Cup Series.
Bowman’s Success This Season
Prior to the return of NASCAR, Bowman stood as one of the only winners from the season. After taking home the checkered flag at Auto Club Speedway, he returned in impactful fashion as well. In one of the first races back Bowman was runner up at Darlington and nearly pulled off a win. Since then, at Martinsville, Pocono 2, and Talladega, Bowman had three top 10 finishes. Bowman has been able to put up very successful runs this year that have been cut short. He also sits in the top half of the points standings currently as well. He’s flown under the radar for the most part despite all of this.
The fact is, Bowman is still just 27. Although most of NASCAR pinpoints Chase Elliot as the lead driver of the future for Hendrick Motorsports, at the least, Bowman is growing into a formidable number two. Alex Bowman has continued to grow as a racer and I expect him to make some noise come the playoffs.
NASCAR returned in style on Sunday, as Kevin Harvick became the 14th driver in Cup Series history to earn 50 wins.
Live, team-oriented sports returned in style on Sunday, as the NASCAR Cup Series circuit staged the Real Heroes 400 at Darlington Raceway in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Kevin Harvick was the first victor, leading 159 of 293 laps en route to his first victory of the 2020 season/
Harvick, the driver of the No. 4 Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing, also earned the 50th victory of his career. He join an illustrious list of 13 other drivers to earn that tally on NASCAR’s premier circuit.
“When you look at a win like this today, this is an organizational win because you have to have your car dialed in when you get here in order to win a race like this,” Harvick said in a Zoom video conference call after the race. “Our guys have just done a great job of putting all the pieces together. Today we were able to capitalize on that and win a race.”
The win, despite the historic weight attached to it, came with a sense of hollowness for Harvick, the first winner in the unusual times for NASCAR.
Sunday’s event was, in racing terms, run under caution in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. The stands were empty and media invitations were kept to a minimum. Practice and qualifying were canceled, so drivers were embarking on an endeavor at a locale known as “The Track Too Tough to Tame” with literally no on-track preparation. Harvick’s victory lane celebration was perhaps best labeled by his posing with the race trophy under the protection of a facemask and no one else around, contrasting the normally raucous, confetti-spewing antics that ensue after a win.
“Usually you get out of the car and the crowd is screaming and yelling, react. Today out of the car it was like, well, I don’t really know what to do here,” Harvick said with a smile. “I got in my car, drove to Victory Lane. There were two photographers there, no team guys. I was able to kind of get my team guys a nice little elbow bump there as I left Victory Lane, tell them great job. Those guys didn’t get a chance to take a picture with their car. Just a lot of sacrifices that go into it.”
“But in the end, in the big picture of things, being able to do what we did today, and that’s race, is what everybody wants to do.”
But the veteran of nearly two Cup Series decades was proud to put on a show at a time the country needed it the most.
“There’s a lot of people that put a lot of effort into this,” he remarked. “I’m glad it went the way that it went. I hope people that watched for the first time liked what they saw. This is a unique racetrack here at Darlington. In the end, it’s just having that opportunity to present yourself to new people. Hopefully, you can make a lot of new fans as you go forward.”
Harvick has been by far the most consistent driver during the interrupted NASCAR season. He is the only driver to appear in the top ten in each of the five races run thus far and leads the points standings over Alex Bowman, whose No. 88 Chevrolet appeared in Sunday’s runner-up slot.
It was Bowman who gave Harvick his biggest challenge of the afternoon. The Hendrick Motorsports star and winner of this spring’s race at Fontana lined up next to Harvick on what became the final restart after a caution for Ryan’s Newman’s spin on lap 254. Harvick’s No. 4 team won the ensuing race off of pit road before its driver held off a furious challenge from Bowman and Kurt Busch. The Busch Light-branded Ford then drove off to Harvick’s first Darlington victory since August 2014.
“I feel like watching it back, I could have been really aggressive and cut the corner into one a little bit and maybe cleared him. I was already pretty aggressive with that,” Bowman said in another Zoom call. “Maybe I could have acted like I was going to clear myself and got him to lift. If he doesn’t lift, we both crash. In three and four I got loose under him. He did a good job of getting on my door, taking some side force away.”
“That’s tough. You’re racing one of the best in the business at one of the most technical, hard racetracks we go to. Just to have the opportunity to race him hard and clean like that was a lot of fun.”
NASCAR will remain at Darlington as they continue a quest to run all 36 races on their docket. The lower-tier Xfinity Series win run on Tuesday night (8:00 p.m. ET, FS1) before the Cup Series returns to action on Wednesday with the Toyota 500 (7:30 p.m. ET, FS1). The 500-kilometer race will run for 228 laps around the 1.5-mile track.
The first lap of action provided instant fireworks, as Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s No. 47 Chevrolet spun and hit the wall before completing his opening circuit. It brought out the first of ten Sunday caution flags. Stenhouse wound up finishing dead-last in 40th.
Included in the yellow flags was a competition pause shortly after the 30th lap. The field was frozen, allowing the teams to get extended adjustments on pit road while neither gaining or losing position.
Seven-time Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson nearly won the first stage of the race, but a crash right before its finale at lap 90 ended his day early. Johnson’s No. 48 Chevrolet hit the way when he ran out room trying to put Chris Buescher’s No. 17 Ford a lap down. The 38th-place finisher announced earlier this month that the series’ pause would not change his plans to retire from full-time racing at the end of this season.
After Johnson’s wreck, his Hendrick Motorsports teammate William Byron took home the first stage. Byron’s day would likewise take a turn for the worse shortly after, as his No. 24 Chevrolet cut a tire and wrecked on lap 111. He would bring the car home in the 35th spot, 14 laps down.
The day wasn’t a total loss for Hendrick’s squad. Bowman finished in the runner-up spot while Chase Elliott finished fourth. Bowman recently signed a deal that would keep him with Hendrick through the 2021 season. He has driven the No. 88 Chevrolet full-time since 2018
Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas took up three spots in the top ten. Defending Daytona 500 champion Denny Hamlin rounded out the first five while Martin Truex Jr. finished right behind him. Erik Jones pulled off the trifecta at eighth.
Rookies had a banner day at Darlington, with Tyler Reddick (7th) and John Hunter Nemechek (9th) pulling off top ten finishes. Nemechek’s posting in the No. 38 Ford was the first top ten finish for the underfunded Front Row Motorsports at a track other than Daytona or Talladega since August 2017.
Veteran returns were a common theme as the series itself made a comeback. Matt Kenseth finished 10th in his first race in the No. 42 Chevrolet since replacing the disgraced Kyle Larson. Meanwhile, Newman recovered from his spin to finish 15th. It was his first race in the No. 6 Ford after being involved in a scary wreck at the end of February’s season-opening Daytona 500.
With qualifying canceled, the starting lineup for Wednesday’s event was set by inverting the top 20 finishers. Thus, 20th-place man Ryan Preece will lead the field to the green, while Ty Dillon (19th) lines up next to him. The positions outside the first 20 will be set by their Sunday finishing positions (i.e. 21st-place finisher Bubba Wallace will start 21st on Wednesday).